GeekWire Summit: Treat teachers as ‘learning engineers,’ and other insights on future of education

Moderator Tyra Mariani, left, president of Schultz Family Foundation, leads a “Future of Education” panel discussion at the 2020 GeekWire Summit in Seattle with Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools; and Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning. (GeekWire Photo)

Educators, policymakers, students and parents need to recognize the pandemic and remote learning as an impetus for meaningful change in schools, rather than a pause before returning to the way things have always been done.

That’s one takeaway from education professionals who offered a crash course on the “Future of Education” during a panel discussion at the GeekWire Summit on Thursday.

In addressing the drastically altered landscape of education from pre-K all the way through higher ed, Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning; and Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, all agreed that simply trying to transfer the old model of teaching and learning to an online setting isn’t going to cut it.

Here are some of the highlights:

‘Learning engineers’: We can start by thinking about teachers as “learning engineers,” said Woolley-Wilson, whose Bellevue, Wash.-based company develops math education software.

“The new teacher has a different relationship, not only with the student but with technology, with data and with home-based learning guardians that they partner with,” she said. “We saw this come into full force when everybody had to go to forced online learning.”

Coming out of that “forced” model of learning, whenever that is, should come with some lessons and desire for change. Just “holding on” until we can get back to what’s considered normal will only do more damage, in Tavenner’s view. And there’s too much emphasis on the logistics of getting back into school buildings, consuming the energy of U.S. educators who should be thinking outside the box.

“No one’s thinking innovatively, no one’s thinking about the opportunity to rethink when we come back [to in-person learning],” Tavenner said. “We’re trying to do what we were doing before, on Zoom, and it’s not working, as everyone knows.”

Klawe believes that there is too much emphasis being put on a style of learning whose time has passed. Learning remotely or learning using technology should not just mirror a traditional classroom. Curriculum needs to be interesting and deeply engaging; teachers need to know how to inspire and make students excited to learn. And the model can be reimagined for all ages, pre-K to college.

“If you think of using this as a way for collaboration, for project base, for game play, for creativity, for problem solving, all of these kinds of things that are highly engaging for students, yes, we will make enormous progress,” Klawe said. “Learning is actually incredibly fun!”

From top left, clockwise: Dr. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools; and Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning. (GeekWire Photo)

Access to technology: All agreed that

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